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Stop Talking Sh*t! – The Missing Piece in IBS Recovery.

Updated: Mar 28, 2023

“My anal muscles feel mushy.”

“My stomach feels like it’s gonna explode.”

“I can’t do that, I have IBS.”

“This pain is killing me.”

Said whispering behind the back of his hand and looking flustered, “I need a, you know, erm, uh, erm, a number 2”.

These are some of the examples I hear daily from my clients who have IBS. The language we use can affect our physical health and our emotional well-being. In this article, I’m going to present 3 reasons you need to watch your language if you have IBS. How literally talking sh*t is actually stopping you from recovering from IBS. And I’ll offer some ideas on how to mind your language to improve your IBS.

First I want to be clear on what IBS is, and isn’t.

What is IBS

On their website the NHS state that...

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common condition that affects the digestive system.

  • It causes symptoms like stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. These tend to come and go over time and can last for days, weeks or months at a time.

  • It's usually a lifelong problem. It can be very frustrating to live with and can have a big impact on your everyday life.

  • There's no cure, but diet changes and medicines can often help control the symptoms.

  • The exact cause is unknown – it's been linked to things like food passing through your gut too quickly or too slowly, oversensitive nerves in your gut, stress and a family history of IBS.

However, IBS is more than just physical symptoms. And is so much more debilitating than non-sufferers realise.

This is the main reason so many treatments for IBS fail. They only concentrate on the physical aspects. Take for example the Low Fodmap diet, medication, and supplements, they exclusively treat the physical symptoms.

But, IBS is a biopsychosocial condition. It affects our biology for sure, but it also affects how we think, how we feel emotionally, and what we do and don’t do.

In short, it affects every area of life!

And the good news is, with the correct treatment, the root cause can be identified and IBS can be cured!

As a biopsychosocial condition, it requires a biopsychosocial treatment plan. But what is biopsychosocial?

What does biopsychosocial mean?

First conceptualised by George Engel in 1977, the Biopsychosocial model asserts that to understand a person's medical condition it is important to consider psychological and social factors, alongside biological factors.

  • Bio - physiological pathology (physical symptoms).

  • Psycho - cognition, (thoughts, beliefs, perception, attribution, and language) and emotions (anxiety, embarrassment, fear, etc.).

  • Social - behaviours (habits, avoidance, coping strategies) and ecology (cultures, socio-economical, socio-environmental factors such as work and relationships).

So any potential cure must involve language.

How Language affects IBS

I'm going to cover 3 ways language affects IBS symptoms and thus, IBS recovery, here, but there are many more.

1) Inflammatory Language – Language has the power to elicit strong emotions, especially when it is inflammatory. Inflammatory language arouses anger and compels the recipient to act.

Anger signals that a boundary has been breached or a goal thwarted. To prepare to respond to this, the body prepares to fight. A mix of chemicals is released from the Hypothalamus that tells the Pituitary Gland that it needs to send a further message to the Adrenal Glands in the back.

When this is received the Adrenal Glands release adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. This causes the lungs to breathe faster and harder to get more oxygen so we can be ready to run or fight as hard as is needed.

A further consequence of this response is that the digestive system shuts down. (It isn’t needed whilst fighting or running). This can cause movement and sounds within the bowels and an urgency to evacuate their contents.

So, be careful how you speak to yourself. Telling yourself you will fail, when you fear failing, is a surefire way to elicit anger and activate IBS symptoms.

2) Brain-Gut Axis – The connection between the brain and gut goes in both directions ( When the brain experiences stress, anxiety, or depression there is a direct response in the stomach. Have you ever experienced that butterfly feeling when thinking about giving a presentation?

Likewise, when the stomach is upset, we can experience depression or anxiety in the mind.

As the brain doesn’t distinguish between imagination and reality, we can experience either physical or emotional responses through thoughts alone.

This can explain why there is such high co-morbidity (30% according to Kawoos et al, 2017) between IBS and Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

Thus, learning to control worry can reduce bowel symptoms and anxiety.

3) Where Attention Goes Energy Flows. It was Donald Hebb that famously said “Cells that fire together, wire together” and, more formally,any two cells or systems of cells that are repeatedly active at the same time will tend to become 'associated,' so that activity in one facilitates activity in the other” (Hebb D. 1949. The organisation of behaviour. New York, NY: John Wiley and Sons.)

This explains how association occurs at the neuronal level in the brain. Association is essential in learning. To learn anything we build from previous learning.

So if we have a dog that hears a bell and then gets food every time that bell is rung, they learn to associate the bell with food. Eventually, they begin to salivate, expecting food, even if the bell is rung and there is no food present.

If we often bring attention to physical pain by talking about it, eventually we will experience pain, even when the body part is not hurting, just by thinking/talking about it. Especially if that attention is negative, as this will create fear and spark the fight/flight response.

Reducing the focus on specific body parts that are often painful, such as the stomach, can reduce the intensity and frequency of pain. So how can we reduce the impact of our IBS symptoms by stopping talking (and thinking) shit! Stop giving it so much energy, and reduce the attention you give it, e.g. don’t check the toilet bowl, don’t scan for symptoms. Don’t say I can’t eat that cos it’ll cause my IBS. And the symptoms will reduce in duration, intensity and frequency.


In summary, IBS is not just a physical condition, it is multifaceted and therefore requires a multifaceted approach. The reason so many treatments only get partial results is they do not take into account our cognitions.

The language we use, and by default, the thoughts we have, impact on physical, emotional, and social symptoms of IBS. So, by watching what we say, we can accelerate our recovery from IBS.

The good news is that there is an approach that covers all aspects of IBS and has great results. You can learn more about how language and thoughts fit into this approach, and how to apply it to your own recovery from IBS, by registering for the FREE talk “The Taboo of Poo – Discover the Missing Piece of Your IBS Recovery” below.

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